Strokes can happen to children | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - October 2009

Strokes can happen to children

Strokes are most commonly associated with older people but a stroke can happen to people of any age and babies and children can suffer from them too.

The charity has funded a new study that could help the hundreds of children who have strokes each year in the UK.  The study aims to develop a blood test to help identify children who are at risk of further strokes.  

Causes of stroke

Approximately half of the children in the UK who have a stroke each year have an underlying medical condition that increases their risk of having another stroke for example, sickle cell anaemia or a heart problem.   The other half are apparently healthy, and the stroke may result from problems with blood clotting or infection; it can also be a rare effect of chickenpox.  Up to one in five children who have had a stroke will have further strokes.

The study being carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Institute of Child Health, will involve 60 children who have had strokes, aged from 16 months to 16 years.  Blood samples will be taken from the children, and will be analysed for the presence of markers, found in the blood when blood vessels in the brain are damaged.  The levels of these markers could help to predict which children are likely to have further strokes. 

Dr Despina Eleftheriou, the lead researcher and a Clinical Fellow at the Institute for Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital, said:  “I was prompted to start this project while working at Great Ormond Street and seeing so many young children having further strokes without being able to predict the likelihood of this happening.  I hope that by the end of the study, we will have developed a blood test to help us identify which children are at greatest risk of further strokes and also have a better understanding of the role of inflammation in causing stroke.”

Helping children develop language skills after stroke

Estimates suggest at least one baby in every 2,300 born full-term suffers a stroke. These strokes often come out of the blue, at around the time of birth.  Sadly, some babies lose their lives, and others can go on to develop long-term problems.  Dr Torsten Baldeweg of University College London, and Dr Frances Cowan, of Hammersmith Hospital, London, are investigating why some babies go on to have difficulties understanding and using language, whereas others do not.

They are studying around 100 children, assessing their language skills and using state-of-the-art MRI scans to see how strokes affect the brain.

The researchers hope to make it easier to predict whether a baby will have difficulties with language as they grow older, as well as how severe their problems may be.  This could also help children get the best type of support with their language skills as early as possible, which is of vital importance to a child’s development.

The researchers also hope to boost understanding of how the brain manages to overcome damage caused by stroke.  When someone suffers a stroke, whatever their age, part of their brain can be permanently damaged.  Sometimes, the brain reorganises itself to compensate for this injury.  A healthy, unharmed area of the brain may take over the role of the damaged tissue.  The researchers are studying how this phenomenon, which is known as plasticity, is able to ameliorate the effects of brain damage on children’s language skills. They expect the developing brain to show considerable plasticity and recovery of function.

Help us spread the word